Sunday, December 27, 2015

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Bo –Sh’mot (Exodus) 10 – 13:16 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

YHVH charges Moshe to "go to Pharaoh," and it is this "going" which our Parasha is named after (literal meaning of "bo" is "come"). The approximately three and a half chapters of Parashat Bo encompass a number of central themes. The historical narrative (describing the last plagues, some of the Israelites' preparations to leave Egypt and a few of their moves), is interspersed with themes of redemption, ransom, the Pesach celebration, injunctions to teach future generations, and several teaching tools which are to accompany the nation of Yisrael down the road of time. Thus, at the outset of Yisrael's travels, which ultimately will bring them to the Land of Promise, they are also embarking on a journey on becoming a (special) Nation. And while they had no time to prepare supplies (ref. 12:39), and were carrying almost only that which the Egyptians had given them (ref. 12:33, 35, 36), YHVH was starting to do His own equipping of this nascent nation on the road toward its destiny.  

The educational theme is evident right at the beginning, by the reason given for the "signs" performed in Egypt: "That you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son's son the mighty things I have done…" (10:2). "I have done" here is denoted by the verb "hit'a'lalti," of the root a.l.l (ayin, lamed, lamed). It is a multi-faceted verb the meaning of which depends on context, yet its root also forms one of the words for "infant" or "babe" - "olal," such as used in Psalms 8:2: "Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength" (emphasis added). Thus, within the word for YHVH's "doings" – or miraculous performances in Egypt, which the Israelites are to tell their children about - is hidden an allusion to these very children!

By this time in the narrative, the land of Egypt has experienced a great deal of devastation, with much more to come. The severity of the next plague is such that locusts "shall cover the face [literally "eye"] of the earth, so that no one will be able to see the earth, and they shall eat the residue of what is left, which remains…  from the hail…" (10: 5, 15). Here we find a sequel of three synonyms. The repetition serves to heighten the proportions of the catastrophe. The Hebrew reads: "yeter [ha]*pleta [ha]nish'eret."  “Yeter” is that which remains, as is also seen in 12:10, where the lamb is to be eaten in such a way that "you shall let none of it remain until morning" (emphasis added). The term "pleta nish'eret" was also mentioned by Yoseph, when he disclosed his identity to his brothers, saying the following: "And Elohim sent me before you to put a remnant ["she'erit," of the same root as "nish'eret" above] in the land for you and to keep alive for you a great survival [pleta]” (Gen. 45:7, literal translation, italics added). Yoseph’s words, regarding the survival of his brethren had a prophetic fulfillment, as the “remnant” of the Children of Yisrael has not only “survived,” but it had actually turned into multitudes, resulting in Egypt's soil being left (almost) without residue of remaining life (through the plagues inflicted by the Elohim of the “remnant”). Therefore, that which was a means of salvation for the one people (as expressed by Yoseph), turned into deadly circumstances for the other! The Apostle Shaul (Paul) expresses a similar principle in the following words: “We are to Elohim the fragrance of Messiah among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life" (2nd Cor. 2:15-16).

Par’oh's now-exasperated servants complain about Moshe, describing him as a "mokesh" – “snare” (10: 7). However, according to Ee’yov (Job) 34:30, it is a Godless king, such as Par’oh, who “should not reign lest the people be ensnared" (emphasis added)! Indeed, no sooner were the locusts removed, when Par’oh's persistence brought about the ninth plague.  Total darkness descended upon his land, and his people were ensnared once more. The darkness was so thick that it could be "ya'mesh," that is, "felt" or "touched" (10: 21. See also Genesis 27:12, describing the concern of Ya'acov, who was impersonating his brother, lest his father should discover his real identity by “touching” his smooth skin). In 10:23 we are struck by the contrast between the total darkness prevailing over Egypt, and the well-lit dwellings of the Israelites, where the source of Light was the Almighty Himself.

It is time now to prepare for the last phase, and for the start of a new one. YHVH declares to Moshe that He is about to strike the final blow on the Egyptians and on their king (ref. 11:1), a fact which Moshe conveys to the latter. This is followed by instructions for the Pesach lamb, whose smeared blood will single out the homes of the Hebrews, while YHVH will be striking the Egyptian homes by killing every firstborn son. Each Hebrew household is to partake of one lamb, or share it with others if the family happens to be too small. The expression used, "according to the number" (12:4), is denoted by a single word - "[beh]mich'sat," rooted in k.s.h (kaf/chaf, samech, hey), meaning "to allocate." The root employed for this term is also used for the standard form of the verb to “cover.” Thus, even before an explanation is given for the procedure of choosing, slaughtering, eating the lamb and applying its blood, the text points subtly to the Lamb which has been ‘allocated’ and designated to be slain from the foundations of the world (ref. Rev. 13:8), Whose blood was given for the covering of sin.

The blood over the Hebrews’ doors enabled YHVH to avoid their homes by passing over - "pasach" (ref. 12:23) - a verb rooted in p.s.ch (pey, samech, chet) and means to “pass" or "skip." Yishayahu (Isaiah) 31:5 says: "Like flying birds, so YHVH of Hosts will protect Jerusalem… He will pass over ["pasach"] and rescue it.” Hence, a lame or limping person is a “piseh’ach” (e.g. 2nd Sam. 9:13; 1Kings 18:21). This verb gives the feast its title of Pesach.

We have already noted that our Parasha is 'didactically inclined,' with 12:14-22 being devoted to instructions pertaining to the future life of the Israelites, once planted in their own land. This passage is fraught with distinct words and terms. We already examined the notion of "allocating" in verse 4. In verse 6 we note that the lamb was to be "kept" (from the 10th of the first month, until the 14th). But rather than a verb, a noun is used there - "mishmoret," of the root sh.m.r (shin, mem, resh). In verse 17 the Children of Yisrael are instructed "to observe the Feast of Matzot." "Observe" is again from the same root, meaning “to keep, or guard,” while in verse 24 the Israelites are told, "to observe," literally "keep," what now becomes an ordinance to be practiced upon entering the Land. In the future, the night commemorating the exodus from Egypt will become a "night of solemn observance (or vigil)" - "shimurim" (verse 42), and again in 13:10, "You shall keep this ordinance in its season from year to year."

The lamb was to be slaughtered on the 14th day of the month, "at twilight" (12:6), which is "ben arba'yim.” “Arbayim" is the plural form of “erev” (evening), the all-familiar term we have been discussing over and again. Most interpreters and commentators believe that "between the evenings" (its literal meaning) denotes "twilight." However, there exists a minority view that supports the literal “between the evenings,” making that expression a reference to an entire day, between the 14th and the 15th.  The meat was to be eaten with bitter herbs, “maror,” and unleavened bread called "matza," which are thin wafer-like crackers baked without yeast (12:8).

The root m.tz.h (mem, tzadi, hey) means “to drain out” to the very last drop of water (e.g. Jud. 6:38), since the leavening agents require liquid in order to be activated. The bitter herbs most likely point to the "bitterness" experienced by the Children of Yisrael in Egypt. Sh’mot (Exodus) says: "And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage--in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field" (italics added). It should be noted that this section, here in chapter 12:1-20, which forms the instruction for future generations, differs somewhat from the actual experience as described in the latter part of chapter 12. In contrast to the injunction for the total removal of all leaven, which will be binding in the future (vs. 15, 17-20), verse 34 says: "So the people took their dough before it was leavened" (italics added).  Thus, it appears that in the first Pesach there was leaven in the dough, although there was not sufficient time for it to be activated. 

In 12:14 we encounter for the first time one of the words for "feast" - "chag" (although in verb form it appeared already in Ex. 5:1). Since the annual reoccurrence of the Feasts makes them cyclical, “chag” is related to the verb "choog" which describes a circle (Job 22:14; Pro. 8:27; Is. 40:22). By its very nature this word implies not only a (set) time, but also a place - a “circle.”  Another such 'multi-dimensional' word is holy "convocation," also appearing here for the first time (v. 16). This "holy convocation" or "assembly," is "mikra kodesh." The root k.r.a (kof, resh, alef) means “to call,” even though the "convocation" - the assembling - is made up of people. The "mikra kodesh" (i.e. the congregation) is designated, therefore, by its calling, but is also connected to a place. In Yishayahu (Isaiah) 4:5, for example, we read:  "Then YHVH will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over "mikra'eh'a" ("her assemblies") a cloud by day…." These “holy convocations” are, of course, to be also special times. The “calling,” then, proves to be the common ‘ingredient’ bonding the people, their place of gathering and the times wherein they are to convene, indicating that Time, Place and People are joined in YHVH's economy. This concept will surface again in future Parashot.  

In their Egyptian Pesach, the Israelites were promised that, "the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you" (12:13). This "seeing" (of the blood) brings to mind another "seeing" on the part of YHVH, as was stated by Avraham, who on the road to Mount Moriah responded to his son's inquiry regarding the offering, saying: “YHVH will see (literally) for himself the lamb for the offering" (Gen. 22:8 italics added). And although (at that time) it was a ram that was provided, the beginning of the fulfillment of those words is taking place now, in Egypt, later to have a further fulfillment, to an even greater degree, by another Lamb. One more connection to the Lamb of Elohim is found in 12:46, where it says that none of the bones of the lamb are to be broken, an injunction which finds its fulfillment in Yochanan (John) 19:33.
The Egyptians are finally persuaded to send the Israelites off. According to 12:33, "they pressed” them to leave. However, "pressed" in this case is from the root "strong" - "chazak" - which makes it a fulfillment of 6:1 “…For with a strong hand [Par’oh] will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land." Another fulfillment, this time of 3:22, is taking place here in 12:35-36, when the Egyptians consent to give their former slaves gold, silver and garments. This is described as the “spoiling of the Egyptians," which, is also a fulfillment of YHVH’s promise to Avraham concerning the Egyptian Diaspora, out of which his seed was to "come out with great wealth" (Gen. 15:14).  "Spoiled" is "(va)yinatz'lu," of the root n.tz.l (noon, tzadi, lamed), which most frequently means to "survive, save, rescue, or deliver."  In fact, it came up in Parashat Sh’mot (5:23) when Moshe complained to YHVH on behalf of his people, saying, “For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all (italics added)." But now not only are they being "delivered," but they are also "procuring" gifts (the form of n.tz.l as it is used here) from their subjugators. The fact that all of these terms are rooted in the same three letters lends an extra emphasis, or 'twist,' to the rescue story and sheds light on the protagonists (YHVH as the "savior," and on those who are being "saved"). The gold and silver will no doubt serve later for the making of the Mishkan’s articles. But even beforehand, in Shmot (Exodus) 33:6, where the Israelites remove their jewelry, the verb used is "(va)yitna'tzlu" (again of the root of n.tz.l). The unusual usage of this word highlights the origin of these articles. Finally, Yeshua, too, "divested," "disarmed" or "wrested" the principalities from their powers, after His victory (Col. 2:15).

Upon leaving Egypt, a "mixed multitude" (“erev rav” – literally “a great mixture”) goes out with the Sons of Yisrael.  After “arbayim” (“twilight”) above (with is root e.r.v. - "evening" – being a "mixed" state, 12:38), “mixture” is now being applied to the nature of the "multitude.”

When the time allotment for their sojourn in Egypt ends, "on this very day" (12:41) YHVH's people, who had been waiting for so long, are suddenly forced to hurry and leave. We recall the case of Yoseph, who was also made to hurry out of prison when the time ordained for his sufferings had fully expired (ref. Gen. 41:1, 14). In both cases, the word used is "miketz" ("at the end of"). When it is time for change, there is not one moment to spare.

The latter part of the Parasha, 13:1-16, is devoted to further instructions. First and foremost among them is the "setting apart" of the firstborn: "…every one who opens the womb among the sons of Israel belongs to me"(13:2), declares YHVH. In verse 15 He elaborates on this, saying that since He "killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt… therefore [the Israelite are to] sanctify to YHVH all males that open the womb, and all the firstborn of [their] sons [are to be] redeemed/ransomed." In last week's Parasha we saw how "ransoming" separated the Israelites from the Egyptians (8:23), even before the smiting of Egypt's firstborn. The notion of "ransom" (“p'dut”) becomes even more evident when blood separates the Egyptian firstborn from those of Yisrael's. The ultimate ransom price for purchasing 'Yisrael the Firstborn' thousands of years later was, and still is, Messiah's blood.

Among the "firsts" in this Parasha, there is a first reference to a name of a month - the "month of Aviv" (13:4). The literal meaning of "aviv," which became synonymous with "spring," is a stalk of grain whose ears are still green. This word indicates the very beginning of growth, before the fruit or grain has had time to develop (e.g. Job 8:12; Song of Solomon 6:11), and is perhaps (also) a reflection on the condition of the Nation in formation. The fact that the noun “aviv” starts with alef, bet, the first two letters of the Alphabet, letters that also form the word “av” - “father,” highlights its “firstness.”


Twice in this portion of instructions we encounter references to the "signs" that are to be on one's hand and forehead (13:9, 16). These "signs" are to be for the purpose of remembering and commemorating the "strong hand with which YHVH brought you out of Egypt" (v. 16), and, "so that the Torah of YHVH may be in your mouth" (v. 9). In both places the mention of these "signs" is related to the teaching of the generations to come. In addition, in keeping with the pedagogical message included in the Parasha, several possible approaches are offered to a variety of future inquirers about the Pesach practices and its teachings. In 12:26-27 we find: "When your children say to you, ‘what does this service mean to you…?’ you shall say, ‘it is the sacrifice to YHVH’s Passover’…" In 13:14, "When in time to come your son asks, saying, 'what is this?' You shall say to him, 'by strength of hand YHVH brought us out of Egypt’…" And in 13:8, "You shall tell your son on that day, saying, 'it is because of this YHVH did for me when I came out of Egypt.’" All three of these are echoed in the traditional Pesach Haggada read on the Passover eve ceremony called the Seder. There they are called the “Four – since another one is added based on Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 6:20  – Questions,” and are posed by the youngest member of the family.

Lastly, in order to partake of the Pesach, a man was required to be circumcised (ref. 12:48), a fact which connects the Paschal lamb to circumcision. It points clearly to the renewal of the Covenant that was established with Avraham and his descendants. Interestingly, in Parashat Sh'mot (4:22) YHVH declares that Yisrael is His “firstborn,” and in the same breath tells Moshe that because Par’oh will refuse to let His firstborn go, He will kill his firstborn (4:22,23). What immediately follows is  Moshe’s wife urge to circumcise her son, calling him "a groom of blood" (4:24-26). This act and choice of vocabulary reinforce the connection of the Paschal lamb's blood to the blood of circumcision.[1] Our "Groom of Blood," Yeshua, who is also the epitome of the Pesach offering, through His Blood, has rendered us the "circumcision who worships Elohim in the Spirit" (Phil. 3:3).



* Ha is the definite article in Hebrew.

[1] The Chumash Shmot With The Commentary Daat Mikrah, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 1991.



Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

This time we will take the imperative “bo” – “come” – and see how it is used in past and present tense singular. In Hebrew the past and present tense “bo” does not change. Above we encountered “remnant” “nish’ar”. In Modern Hebrew this is the verb “for “staying” or “remaining”. You will see how in Hebrew when the subject of the sentence is in plural so is the verb that follows. We will also apply the very common k.r.a (call, read) to second person, singular masculine and plural feminine, and end with “come” once more, but this time we will use it in the same way that it is used in the Parasha (such as in “come to Pharaoh”).

The boy came and stayed
Ha’yeled ba venish’ar

The girl is coming and staying
Ha’yalda ba’a venish’e’ret

Did you call me (addressing a male)?
Kara’ta lee?
Did you (plural) call us (addressing females)?
Karaten la’nu?

Come (addressing a male) in the spring
Bo ba’aviv
Come (addressing a female) in the spring
Bo’ee ba’aviv

Now that you know the words “bo” and “bo’ee”, see if you can detect “bo’ee” in the song “Bo’ee Kala” (emphasis on the last syllable) which means “Come, (oh) Bride”.
The music was composed to a poem by renowned Hebrew poetess, Leah Goldberg (1911-1970).





Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’ey’ra – Sh’mot (Exodus) 6:2- Chapter 9 with Hebrew Tools

One of Moshe's roles, at the time recorded by our Parasha, was to link the Children of Yisrael with their forefathers, history, and destination, but not before establishing (for them and even more so for himself) the identity of their Elohim.  This was no easy task!  YHVH had already revealed Himself to Moshe in the desert, both in sight and word.  And while Moshe was trying to negotiate with Par'oh on behalf of the Master of the Universe, as well as to 'introduce' Him to his own people, he himself had a hard time grasping the awesome revelation which was unfolding before his eyes.  Our Parasha opens up with yet another monologue of Moshe's heavenly Father, displaying great patience with His child, who at this point had not fully adjusted to the dimensions of his newly found destiny and relationship.  The opening "I am YHVH," together with the subsequent words, serve as another reminder to Moshe, designed to anchor, steady, and prepare him for what is ahead and to build up his trust and faith.  Last week, upon his inquiry as to Elohim's name, YHVH gave him a somewhat elusive answer (3: 14): “Ehe'ye asher ehe'ye,” adding, “thus you shall say to the Children of Israel, Ehe'ye has sent me.” These words are (typically) translated: ”I am that I am.” Yet if we glance back at 3:12, we find that “ehe'ye” means “I will” (as it says there: “I will be with you”).  It appears that YHVH was not about to divulge His real (or 'full') name at that point.  His response and the tone by which it was conveyed sounds almost like a (temporary) discharge or dismissal. Thus, paraphrased, it may be read: 'never you mind Moshe… I Am and Will be Who I Am - what is it to you?' (Compare Yeshua's response to Shimon Keifa - Peter - in John 21:22).

The verb “ehe'ye” – I will be – is contained in “YHVH,” the name which Elohim is now, by His own initiative, revealing to Moshe (6:2). Thus the letters h.v.h (hey, vav, hey), which are tantamount to h.y.h (hey, yod, hey) meaning “to be”1 form the root of the venerated tetragrammaton.  "Being" and "present" both originate from this one root. The tetragrammaton, therefore, speaks of "being" and of the "present presence."

Now that Moshe learns Elohim’s name, he hears Him say something quite surprising and unexpected, namely: “I appeared (literally – I was seen va’ey’ra) to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as El Shaddai, but My name YHVH, I did not make known to them” (6:3).  However, the name YHVH is mentioned in connection with the Patriarchs.  In fact, there is evidence that they had used this name when addressing Elohim (e.g. Gen. 15:8).  The Sages discuss this point at length, but we will not delve deeply into the subject other than to say that since He revealed Himself to them as “El Shaddai,” the “mighty breasted One,” or by implication the ”Mighty One Who is Sufficient,” it was this aspect of His being with which they must have been most familiar (e.g. Gen. 35:11).  In the course of His on-going and progressive revelation of Himself, the Elohim of Yisrael is about to demonstrate that He is in control of the present, the One Who Is Present, and truly the One who IS the Present: Yah-hoveh. (Yah, as His name and also connected to the verb “to be,” is used a number of times, e.g. Ex. 17:16, although lost in the translation, and in many other instances in the Psalms.)

The passage, which starts in verse 3 of Chapter 6 and continues all the way to verse 8, constitutes a unique and significant unit, in both content and form.  The beginning statement is also found at the end (v. 8), that is, "I am YHVH."  In verse 3 reference is made to the Patriarchs, while a similar reference shows up just before the end, in verse 8, in the form of a very emphatic statement (cf. last Parasha, Ex. 3:15,16). The third point in this monologue deals with the Covenanted Land (v. 4), and is echoed in the beginning of verse 8.  Verse 5 talks about the groaning (and therefore sufferings) of the Children of Yisrael, while verse 7 again deals with the same theme.  Thus, the four elements mentioned appear both in the first and second half of the passage, although the second time round the order of these themes is reversed.

The central part of this passage stands firmly on its own, as a precious stone set in fine filigree, surrounded and framed by the four repetitions mentioned above (i.e. YHVH’s name, Patriarchs, Land, and Sufferings). It reads as follows, “Therefore say to the children of Israel: `I am YHVH, and I will take you out (ve'hotze'ti) from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver (ve’hi’tzalti) you out from their bondage, and I will redeem (ve'ga'alti) you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.  And I will take (ve'la'kach'ti) you to me for a people’” (6:6-7 emphases added).  Here too there is a ‘foursome,’ this time of four verbs, which describe a process.  First comes the "taking out" from one place to another, second is the “deliverance” from the enemy and the rigors of the impending desert journey. The third level, “redemption,” is also deliverance, but connotes “judicial ransoming.”  The "redeemer" is a “go'el,” which in the Bible is synonymous with a "blood relative." Hence, this announcement in and of itself renders the Divine Redeemer as a blood relative who has the means and will to purchase the object of his redemption, take it upon himself to recover and restore everything (including that which has been lost) to right order, and be an avenger of wrongs (e.g. Lev. 25:26; Num. 5:8; Ruth 3:12, Ruth 4; Josh. 20:5). Finally, the "taking" here is much like the "taking of a wife" in marriage (Gen. 25:20, for example).

When this series of actions is completed “…you shall know that I am YHVH your Elohim” (6:7). Immediately following this, YHVH continues to promise to “bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am YHVH” (v. 8, emphases added). The declaration “I am YHVH" pronounced both at the beginning and end of the passage, powerfully denotes His all-encompassing view and position, contrasted with the restricted human perspective and vantage point of the Sons of Yisrael. The progressive process we have been following evidences that there is only One who can act on every level, with nothing ever being required of the recipients. This IS the grace, “which is not of yourselves [but] it is the gift of Elohim!” (Ephs.2:8).  However, for this grace to be appropriated, faith is required and thus we move on to the anticlimactic end (v. 9 ): “So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.”  "Despondency" is literally “shortness of spirit/breath,” sometimes meaning impatience, while "cruel bondage" is actually “hard labor” (v. 9). 

Following this 'introduction' or preamble, the rest of the Parasha is mostly devoted to the implementation of the action plan described above.  In 6:11, YHVH calls out to Moshe to (literally), “come - BO - speak to Pharaoh…” Notice that above He promised to “bring” – ve’heveti – His people to the land. “Come” – bo – stems from the same root as “bring” – la’ha’vee (that is, “cause one to come”). Thus the “coming” that Moshe is commanded to do before the next phase, which will include verbal ‘combat’ with Egypt’s ruler, may be a “coming” first to Elohim. However, prior to the second plague (of frogs), Moshe is charged once again by YHVH to “bo” – come - to Par’oh (8:1, and likewise in 9:1 and in next week’s Parasha’s opening verse).   

Moshe responds to YHVH’s commission twice with “…I am of uncircumcised lips” (6:12, 30), obviously trying (once again) to dodge his responsibility by claiming that he is not a fit speaker. But whereas last week we read that he used the expression: “I am not eloquent… but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue” (4:10), this time he feels the need to press the point even further, since "uncircumcised lips" could also denote uncleanness.  YHVH is not 'impressed' and does not take up this matter with His messenger.

It is the condition of Par'oh's heart that YHVH is about to deal with, as He says to Moshe, “And I will harden Pharaoh's heart…” (7:3a). Shaul (Paul) elaborating on this says, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardens” (Rom. 9:18). Romans 1:18-21 may help us to further understand this idea:For the wrath of Elohim is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,  because what may be known of Elohim is manifest in them, for Elohim has shown it to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew Elohim, they did not glorify Him as Elohim, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened”  (italics added). 

Back to where we left off in Exodus 7:3. The second part of the verse reads, “… and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt,” with the result being, “And the Egyptians shall know that I am YHVH when I stretch forth My hand upon Egypt and bring out the Children of Israel from among them” (v. 5 italics added). It should be pointed out that the “hardness” of Par’oh’s heart is qualified by three different words – ka’she – hard (e.g. 7:3); chazak – strong (e.g. 7:13; kaved – heavy (e.g. 8:15). Interestingly where it says that YHVH hardened the monarch’s heart the first two verbs are used, but when the latter is doing it himself, the verb utilized is “kaved,” which is also related to “honor” and “glory,” thus exposing Par’oh’s inner motivation (for the same idea see 9:17, though there a different by synonymous verb is used). More on that verb and idea in Parashat Beshalach, especially in chapter 14, where k.v.d will appear several times in a ‘multi-directional’ fashion.

Just prior to inflicting the first plague, Moshe speaks for YHVH saying to Par’oh: ”…Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness” (7:16). “Serve” here is from the root “work." We remember vividly from last week's Parasha the many negative references to work and labor.  Here "work" becomes worship” of YHVH, as it is in most other references to worship.  The hard working slaves (“avadim,” of the root word, a.v.d) of the Egyptians are about to be liberated and become free to carry out “avodat  Elohim” – that is, rendering service unto YHVH.

 If at first YHVH made His name known to Yisrael by attaching it to their ancestors’ names (the Elohim of…), thereby demonstrating His faithfulness, now He wants to convey to His people that He is in charge of their present circumstances, in control of all of nature - both animate and inanimate; of mankind, beasts and the elements.  The first to be affected is Egypt's source of water and life, the Nile (Ye’or in the Biblical terminology), which He turns to blood.  Blood, in its turn, is also a symbol of life and atonement but it now becomes a deadly substance in the very body of water, which in the second plague will be swarming with frogs (8:6). The Nile became the grave of many of Yisrael’s infants (ref. Ex. 1:22), and now that blood is crying out, not from the ground, but from the water… In addition, all of Egypt’s other water sources were also turned to blood (7:19).

The fourth and fifth plagues (8:21; 9:3) are the first ones not to occur in the vicinity of the Israelites' dwellings which means, that the land of Goshen was free of them.  The swarms of insects, as they are called, and the pestilence, are both terms with familiar roots, which we have already encountered.  "Swarms of insects" (and other translated versions) are “a'rov,” and "pestilence" is “dever.”  “Arov” (which shares its root, a.r.v., with the root for “erev” – “evening”) means a “mixture,” hence the mixed variety of species.  Last week we looked at “midbar” - “desert,” noting that the “dever” (i.e. “pestilence” or “plague”) sometimes "drives" (of the same root, once again) its victim to the “desert”.  This time it is 'real' pestilence, not the figurative type, which is plaguing the herds and flocks of the Egyptians (9:8, 9). “Boils and hail with fire flashing… in the midst of… it” (9:24) are the next two plagues, both of which have no tangible effect on the Israelites, “in the land of Goshen in which My people dwell” – with “dwell” being a translation of “stand”. “Stand”? Why stand? Could the text be hinting at the temporary nature of their existence in Goshen, as shortly they would be leaving that locale? There YHVH made “a division between My [His] people and your [Par’o’s] people” (8:23). Division” here is “p'dut,” which literally means “ransom.”  It is the ransom which always separates those who are "My people" from those who are Par'oh's.  The basic meaning of the Hebrew root [p.d.h] is “to achieve the transfer of ownership from one to another through payment of a price or an equivalent substitute.”2 More on this idea in next week's Parasha…


1 In Hebrew, the "v" sound (vav) and the "y" sound (yod) are often interchangeable, such as in the name Chava (Eve), which denotes “life,” although the noun “life” is “chayim,” and “to live” is “ lich’yot”.
2 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2,
ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, P 198

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

In Hebrew Tools of Parashat Va’ey’ra (And He Appeared, lit. “was seen”), in B’resheet 18, we already encountered the verb for “seeing” in the preset tense. In our Parasha (And I Appeared, also lit. “was seen”) naturally we tackle that verb again, but this time in past tense. Remember the all-famous question that YHVH posed before Yirmiyahu: “What do you see Yirmiyahu”? (11:1), or, in Hebrew, ma’ ata’ ro’eh Yirmiyahu?”

And now it’s your turn to practice:

What did Moshe see?
Ma ra’ah Moshe? (lit. what saw Moshe?)

Elohim brought out the Children of Yisrael
Elohim hotzee et Bney Yisrael
(notice that the verb “hotzee” is to “take out”, “bring out”, “pull out” – unlike in English, it is designated by one word only)

He took them to the wilderness
Hu lakach otam lamidbar

Elohim is strong
Elohim hu chazak

He gives and He takes

Hu noten ve’hu lo’ke’a’ch

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Sh’mot – Sh’mot (Exodus) 1– 6:1 with Hebrew Tools


The opening verses of this Parasha reiterate what we have read recently in Parashat Va’yigash; namely, the names of the sons of Yisrael who had gone down to Egypt. Compared to the first list (Gen. 46:8-25), this one is much more brief and 'basic.' It is these "names" (“sh’mot”), which lend the title to the Parasha, as well as to the whole book. The fruitfulness promised to the Patriarchs is already starting to be evident. "And the children of Israel were fruitful [of the root p.r.h for “fruit”], and increased [of the root sh.r.tz applied to the animals in Gen. 1:20-21] abundantly, and multiplied - va’yirbu - and became exceeding mighty – va’ya’atzmu; and the land was filled with them” (Ex. 1: 7 italics added). This verse sums up one of the first phases of the Israelites' sojourn in Egypt, while at the same time also echoing B’resheet (Genesis) 47:27: "So Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt in the land of Goshen; and they took a hold of it - va'ye'ach'zu - and grew and multiplied exceedingly" (italics added). The above-mentioned verb for “increase” – va’yishretzu – is not mentioned in the Genesis 47 scripture, and as we noted, it is generally applied to animals. Is this a hint as to the condition of the Israelites at this point? Last week we noticed how Ya'acov, when bringing up the “land of Yisrael” in the course of blessing Ephraim and Menashe, emphasized "achuzat olam" (48:4), the "everlasting possession," or literally, the “everlasting hold." But while the old Patriarch stressed "holding" or "grasping tightly" on to the Land of Promise, his descendants seemed to be very quick to "take hold" of foreign soil (as seen in the above quoted v. 27).   

According to Nehama Leibowitz[1], by their settling and establishing a foothold in Egypt, the Israelites committed a sin. Thus, their new home turned into a place of exile and bondage, as the Parasha clearly points out. The commentary goes on to say, however, that suffering and exile also produced refining and purification (e.g. Deut. 4:20; Jer. 11:4; Is. 48:10), had an educational value (e.g. Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Deut. 16:11-12), and motivated the humanitarian treatment of others (e.g. Lev. 25:38-43; Deut. 5:14-15). Slavery and bondage demand redemption, and according to the commentary, such a redemption "serves as a spur for a religious duty, imposing on every Israelite the duty to redeem his fellow being from slavery." However, we cannot ignore the clear and somewhat inauspicious prediction given to Avraham during his awesome vision in B’resheet (Genesis) 15, namely, "Your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete" (vs. 13, 16).

"The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete”; “yet” (in the above quote) is "ad heh'na," literally "thus far." In Vayikra (Leviticus) 18: 25 we read: "For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants." From the time YHVH made His declaration to Avraham it took well over 600 years for the Amorites’ (a generic name for the Canaanite people groups) iniquity to be "sha'lem," “complete.”  The 'quota of their iniquity' is only made full when the Children of Yisrael enter the Land of C’na’an, and thus the former are being "vomited out by the land."  In this way, the four hundred years of Egyptian exile, and another forty of wandering in the desert, were necessary for the completion of Elohim’s objectives for the Israelites, while this time capsule was also instrumental in fulfilling a larger and more global 'judicial plan.' In the Divine economy, nothing is ever meaningless or lost. The Great Economist is very precise, and is sovereign over time, events, and the protagonists’ roles therein.

Let us return now to the present situation in Egypt. The rising of the new king "who does not know Joseph" (1:8) introduces us to a new phase into which Ya'acov's children are being thrust quite unawares. This king identifies the Israelites as a Nation, or People - "am," which may also explain the reference to them in singular person, rather than plural. "The people [am] of the sons of Israel is more mightier [‘rav ve'atzum’] than we” (v. 9), while above, in verse 7, the plural  is used. This multiplicity and might appear to constitute a threat to himself and to his people, hence the above description of this foreign race (being "more numerous and mightier than us", italics added). It seems that exaggeration and bigotry play no small part in these words, which are used to instigate a plan to solve the “Hebrew problem” (compare the term “Jewish problem” used in Europe, which culminated in Hitler’s “final solution”). Interestingly, at the very end of last week’s Parasha, Yoseph charged his brothers concerning taking his bones back to the land, whenever YHVH would visit (pakod) them (Gen. 50:25). In our Parasha, at the very beginning of the book of Sh’mot (Exodus), we read about the “might” of the People of Yisrael. Both bone and might share the same root of a.tz.m (ayin, tzadi, mem). This root lends itself to several significant words, which we will examine more thoroughly in Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha (Numbers 8-12). Suffice it to say here that Yoseph’s bones “multiplied” greatly, in accordance with the promise granted to his sons, although at present this blessing appears to be a potential source of a harsh adversity.

Thus, to counter this (hypothetical) threat of a population explosion, the king takes a number of measures, all of which are expressed in verbs denoting suffering, suppression and servitude, found in chapter 1:11-14. First they "set over them" - “sa'rey mi’sim” - tax collecting princes, to (literally) "afflict them with suffering." However, "the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (v. 12). The verb "grew" is "yifrotz," of the root p.r.tz which we examined in Parashat Va’yeshev (Gen. 38:29), where we noted that it means "to break forth."  This caused the Egyptians "to loath" or "abhore" (“va’yakutzu”) them, and in turn they made them do rigorous labor (“va'ya'vidu” - a.v.d. - labor, work; while “eh’ved” is “slave”). "And they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of work in the field. All their work in which they made them work with rigor" (v. 14 italics added). In verses 13-14 the root a.v.d (ayin, vet, dalet) - work, labor, slave - occurs five times, impressing upon the reader the sense of perpetual toil.

The commentator Benno Jacob [2] observes that the initiators of the acts of ritual enslavement are always mentioned (in their acts of harassment) in the plural, whereas the Israelites are referred to in the singular (in verses 10-12 each reference to the Israelites reads "he", although not translated that way in English). The commentator goes on to say, "Israel is pictured here as characterless, faceless, bereft of leadership." Interestingly, the Parasha opens with the names of the individuals whose descendants, in just a matter of a few verses, are described as being submerged in a sea of suffering and oblivion (although, as mentioned above, the singular person could have also been used because the Israelites were viewed as an “am” – a single nation, a people).

 The only two characters singled out here are the midwives (who are mentioned by name). They were assigned the heinous task of doing away with every Hebrew male newborn. Their defiance of the king's edict (1:17) results in Yisrael becoming even more numerous and mighyrav and atzum (the same term we looked at above, stemming from the root a.tz.m, v. 20b). These two Elohim-fearing women testify of the full involvement of Yisrael's Elohim with His People, even at a time when the Nation was being forced into conditions of bondage and forgetfulness. However, whereas "am Yisrael" as a whole was occupied with endless and huge building projects for their taskmasters, it says about the midwives that Elohim established their "batim" – 1:21 literally “homes, houses" and also “families, dynasties” (translated “households”)!

The subjugating process increasingly gathers momentum; taxing (1:11) turns into hard labor (v. 11), then to enslavement (vs. 13, 14) and to 'limited' infanticide (v. 16), which finally becomes an imposition on the entire Egyptian nation, compelling it to engage in a full-blown genocide by exterminating every Hebrew male newborn (v. 22). Thus, the 22 verses of Sh’mot’s first chapter recount a long and eventful span of time.

The next chapter reports a sudden development. Nehama Leibowitz comments, "One family, father, mother, and daughter emerge from the gloom of this faceless mass."[3] The anonymity is only gradually broken, though, as the protagonists of this first part of the chapter remain nameless, albeit distinct. The only specific name in this narrative is the name that Par’oh's daughter gives the baby whom she finds. It is to be Moshe, "because I drew him out of the water" (2:10 emphasis added). And as we observed in Parashat Miketz (Gen. 41-44:17), this name is probably an Egyptian one, as "mes" or "mesu" in ancient Egyptian mean "child" or "son," [4]  yet the Hebrew language adapts to foreign terms by employing puns or a 'play on words' (such as the in the name "Bavel," Gen. 11:9). There is, however, one other instance in Scripture where the root m.sh.h  (mem, shin, hey) is used: "He drew me out - yimsheni - of many waters," sings King David (2nd Sam. 22:17; Ps. 18:16), being an apt description of Moshe’s current condition, and also of the future predicament of his people, when they too will face a large body of water. The basket that baby Moshe was put in is called "tey'va," the identical word used for Noach's ark! The gigantic structure and the little basket are both havens of safety and protection, out of which deliverance (having also the association of water) with large-scale ramifications was destined to emerge.

It takes the death of the king (2:23) for the Children of Yisrael to "groan" and "cry out" -"va'yiz'aku" - and “their cry" - "shava'atam" - goes up to Elohim. Notice that here the verb “to cry out” is different from the noun “cry.” In other words, by the time the cry (“za’a’ka”) reaches heaven, it turns into a "sha'v'a" (sh.v.a. shin, vav, ayin), a noun which is "akin to deliverance or salvation" (y.sh.a - yod, shin, ayin) [5]. Thus, the cry already contains within it the response! And so we read that Elohim "heard," "remembered," "looked" (or "saw"), and "acknowledged" (2:24-25).

Chapter 3 elaborates on the implementation of the above verbs through the person of Moshe and his mission. It will be by Moshe that YHVH will reveal Himself to His People. Moshe spends time in the desert, "midbar," "tending the flock of Yitro (Jethro), his father-in-law… and he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of Elohim” (3:1). "Midbar" stems from the root d.v.r (dalet, vet/bet, resh), meaning “speech,” but this root also supplies us with “to drive” (as in “push out”) and “defeat.” It shares the same root with "pestilence" or “plague,” and with the Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple ("dvir"). It seems that when the one who is stricken with plague (sin) is driven to the ‘backside’ of the desert, it is there that he hears YHVH’s still small voice speaking, and before long finds himself in the Holy of Holies, with Moshe being a case in point. In 4:10 – 16, the root d.b/v.r. is repeated seven times in various forms such as “words” and “speaking.”

YHVH reveals Himself to Moshe, talking to Him in the place of silence and desolation, thus indicating that His Presence and sovereignty are not limited by the way things (also of the root d.v.r - davar = thing) may appear in the natural. The sea, for example, that will face the Israelites in their future escape, will turn into "dry land" which will enable their passage. Incidentally, this “dryness” or “parched land” is called "charava" (Parashat B'shalach, Ex. 14:21), of the root ch.r.v (chet, resh, bet/vet). The particular desert location referred to here is called “Chorev” (Horeb, 3:1) and also stems from the root, ch.r.v (chet, resh, vet), which means “desolation or waste,” forming also the root for "cherev" - “sword” and “churban” – “destruction.” Not surprisingly, in this part of the world where water is scarce, “dryness” and “destruction” are almost synonymous.

Elohim’s plans for His people may be elicited from some of the terms used here. He declares that He Himself "will go down" to rescue His people from Mitzrayim (Egypt - straits, narrowness, adversity), and "will bring them up" to "a good and broad land" (3:8 emphases added). When Moshe is to assemble the elders of Yisrael he is to convey to them that, the Elohim of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'acov literally, "visiting has visited you and that which has been done to you in Egypt" (3:16). We also noticed above, in Yospeh’s request at the end of the B’resheet (50:25), that he used the same term when he expressed his faith about Elohim visiting His people to take them back to the land. In both these cases "visit" is "pakod," the root being p.k.d (pey, kof, dalet), and means “to visit, attend, muster, appoint,[6] count, or miss.” This word is also known as "precept" (e.g. Ps. 119:15, 27). Like several of the other words for "commandments" and "laws" this one also has, as is evident here, a different or broader meaning than what is generally perceived - something that we will be taking a closer look at when several of these terms will surface in future Parashot (Parasha – singular; Parashot – plural). This verb appropriately sums up YHVH’s multi-facetted plan for His people.

 The long discourse that the reluctant Moshe has with YHVH is about to end when YHVH tells him: "Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say" (4:12). Similar words are repeated in verse 15, with the promise to instruct him and his brother A’ha’ron (Aaron) as to what they will have to do. It was likewise a totally submissive Yeshua who expressed a similar idea during His earthly ministry, "The son can do nothing by himself, he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the son does also" (John 5:19, see also 8:28; 12:49; 14:10).

Moshe and A’ha’ron comply and go to see Par’oh. In 5:4 we read: “And the king of Egypt said to them, Moses and Aaron, why do you keep the people from their work? Get to your burdens!” “Keep the people” is “tafri’ou,” from the root p.r.a., (pey, resh ayin), which we looked at in Parashat Miketz (Ge. 41-44:17), where we also noticed its (coincidental?) similarity with the name Par’oh.  The meaning of this root, being “unruliness” and “dishevelment” (of hair), is not incompatible with this king’s conduct toward his Hebrew subjects.

We noted above that, because of their lowly state the Hebrews were referred to in singular person. In 4:22 they are referred to once again in this manner; but this time for an entirely different reason. Here YHVH calls Yisrael, "My first born son." Even though by the end of the Parasha the lot of the Israelites is made (temporarily) even worse than it had been before Moshe's audience with Par'oh, the People, who at the beginning of Sh'mot are presented as a forgotten and maltreated mass, are now the object of YHVH's direct intervention. It is, therefore, with these words that our Parasha ends: "Then YHVH said to Moses, 'Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a strong hand he will let them go, and with a strong hand he will expel them out of his land'" (6:1).

In Parashat Sh’mot we see once again the sovereignty of YHVH over the schemes and intentions of the enemy. Just as in the case of Yoseph, whose destiny the enemy attempted to disrupt, yet YHVH used this very plan to catapult him into the place that He had designed for him, so is this principle also true in regards to Moshe (and in an even greater sense to Yeshua, see 1 Cor. 2:7, 8). The very man whose command should have brought about this infant’s death, ended being the one in whose palace the infant was protected, raised, and groomed for leading the Israelites out and away from under his despotic and tyrannical control and dominion.

 


1 New Studies in Shemot, by Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman,  
 Eliner Library, Jerusalem, 1995
2 Ibid
3 Ibid
4 The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon,  
ed. Francis Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass.
5 Ibid
6 Ibid


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use
                              
In Parashat Sh’mot there are some very useful words for simple usage in Modern Hebrew, such as “sh’mot” – “names”, “shem” – “name”; “taxes” – “missim”; “built” – “ba’nu”; “houses”, “homes” - “batim”; “worked” or “toiled” – “avdu”; “speaking” – “diber”, etc. Let’s try to put some of these to use. 

What is your name (masculine)?
Ma shim’cha?
What is your name (feminine)?
Ma sh’mech?

Many taxes
Harbeh missim

The builder built houses
Ha’ba’nai ba’na batim

The children of Yisrael worked hard
B’ney Yisrael avdu ka’sheh

Elohim spoke to Moshe in the wilderness
Elohim diber el Moshe bamid’bar